black widow spider

Black Widow Spider Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • yellow
  • Red
  • Black
skin type

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"Only the bite of the female black widow spider is dangerous"

They have a fierce reputation, but in reality, black widow spiders (aka Latrodectus ) are calm, solitary pacifists who only release their venom when all other defenses have been exhausted. The notorious arachnid, with 32 species found on every continent except Antarctica, may have burst onto the world stage about 300 million years ago.

Female black widows carry large amounts of venom, while males do not. Although it is widely believed that all females eat their mates after reproduction, this behavior is rare and only occurs in laboratory settings from which there is no escape.

Incredible Black Widow Spider Facts!

  • Black Widow webs are stronger than steel! Scientists are actively studying spider silks, hoping to replicate them in infrastructure projects like bridges!
  • At first glance, spiders in the genus Steatoda resemble widow spiders, which is why they have earned the nickname "pseudo-widow spiders." Bites from Steatoda are not pleasant, but they are not as damaging as black widow bites.
  • Latrodectus tredecimguttatus is the deadliest of all 32 widow species.
  • Black widow spiders don't live very long. Males usually die within a few months, with only a few lucky females making it to three years of age.

You can check out more incredible facts about black widow spiders.


scientific name

Latrodectus is the scientific name for the widow spider. A portmanteau of the Neo-Latin word "latro" ("thief") and the Ancient Greek word "dēktēs" ("biter"), coined in the early 1800s by the French nobleman Baron Charles Athanase Walckenaer. Colloquially, the name translates to "biting robber".


Black widow spider on white background
Members of the genus Black Widow can be found in Africa, America, Asia, Australia, and Europe,

©Protasov AN/

The genus "True Widow" has 34 recognized species. In North America, three species— Latrodectus mactans, Latrodectus hesperus, and Latrodectus variolus— are informally known as the southern black widow, western black widow, and northern black widow, respectively. Latrodectus tredecimguttatus is the European black widow; Latrodectus hassseltii is found throughout Australia and is known as the red-backed black widow; and in South America, two species of spiders—Latrodectus corallinus and Latrodectus curacaviensis— are commonly referred to as South American black widow spiders.

scientific name Taxonomy Origin Date area
perch _ 1932 Paraguay, Argentina
groin bass 1877 galapagos islands
bishop bullfrog 1938 U.S.
longtail bass 1865 Cape Verde, Africa, Kuwait, Iran
coral perch 1980 Argentina
sea bass 1776 South America Lesser Antilles
dahlia frog 1959 Morocco to Central Asia
yellow belly perch 1960 Argentina
Nematode_ _ 1898 India, Myanmar, Thailand, China, Japan
red belly bass 1991 India, Sri Lanka
sea bass 2021 Colombia
geometric perch 1841 Africa, introduced to North and South America, Poland, Middle East, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Hawaii
sea bass 1870 India, Southeast Asia to Australia, New Zealand
yellow belly perch 1935 Introduced in North America, Israel, Korea
puffer fish 2021 Colombia
Bull-backed dragon 1890 Yemen
Forkless Lobster 1904 Namibia, South Africa
Karoo perch 1944 South Africa
puffer fish_ 1871 new Zealand
lily bullfrog 2000 Spain, Algeria
sea bass 1775 Probably only native to North America, introduced to South America, Asia
sea bass 1863 Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles
exotic turtle 1876 Argentina
black belly bass 1902 Cape Verde, Madagascar
pale bass 1872 Cape Verde to Libya, Türkiye, Kazakhstan, Iran, Central Asia
four head bass 1980 Argentina
Turtle_ _ 1902 Africa, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq
resurrected perch 1948 Israel
rhodesian bullfrog 1972 southern africa
pectoralis_ _ 1849 Chile
sea bass 1790 Mediterranean to China
groin bass 2019 South Africa
spotted bass 1849 Chile, Argentina
puffer fish_ 1837 America / Canada
Distribution of different black widow spider species

evolution and classification

Black widows are a class of arachnid spiders known for having interdigitated chelicerae. Within this large collective, they also belong to the subgroup of Arachnididae, also known as tangled-web spiders, known for making webs to hunt prey and for the setae on the seventh segment of the hind legs that serve as tarsals.

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As members of the genus Latrodectus, they are known as true widows and are related to their European and South American counterparts, brown widows, red widows, Australian redback spiders, and others.

These arachnids also have the ability to produce a neurotoxic venom called latrotoxin, which is thought to be particularly potent, which in turn causes latrodectism.

appearance and behavior

Female black widow spider guarding egg carton
Despite their small size, black widows produce potent neurotoxic venom

© Chuck Evans (mcevan) / CC BY 2.5 – License

Almost all black widow spiders are about 1.5 inches long, weigh about 0.035 ounces, and have dark, hourglass-shaped bodies with white, brown, or red markings. Like most web-spinning spiders, widows have poor eyesight and rely on vibrations to sense prey and danger.

Unlike the world's largest spider, the Goliath bird-eater (Theraphosa blondi) , the black widow is tiny — about the size of a paper clip. But don't let their compact size fool you—for widows carry dangerous burdens! Their bite releases a neurotoxin called latratoxin, which causes excruciating pain, muscle stiffness, vomiting and profuse sweating. People bitten by a black widow spider may experience these symptoms for up to a week. But the notion that widow bites are usually fatal is false. However, they do kill cats and dogs.

Only females are harmful; males do not have sufficient quantities of venom to cause significant damage.

Widow spiders are notorious for female cannibalism – meaning that the female spider eats the male spider after mating. But what people may not understand is that this doesn't happen very often, and not all species engage in the practice.

So why do some Latrodectus ladies murder their mates? No one knows for sure, but one popular theory postulates that the behavior increases the offspring's odds of survival. In addition, males can sense when females are full thanks to special chemicals emitted from the web after a meal, and most will not choose a mate who is hungry. In fact, most males who become mate prey are trapped in a laboratory setting with no escape.


deadliest animals in america
Black Widows can be found in Attics, Basements, or in Caves or Pyres

©Sari ONeal/

Widow spiders crawl on every continent except Antarctica. They are especially plentiful in North America, especially in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada's wine country.

Typically, black widow spiders build their webs near the ground or in dark, low places. Inside, you'll likely find them in dark corners under desks, in basements, and attics. Outside, they hide in holes and stakes.


Grasshopper close-up on blade of grass
Grasshoppers are the black widow's favorite prey

© Kumpf

What Do Black Widow Spiders Eat? They prey on small insects such as flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, beetles and caterpillars. In their environment, you'd think they were top predators.

How do black widows catch food? Like most other spider species, black widow spiders weave sticky, silky webs. Widow spiders hang upside down in the middle of their webs as they wait for food to enter their nests. When victims crash, they are incapacitated by the stickiness of the network. At that point, the spider pulls back, paralyzing the prey with venom, then wraps its meal in silk to further prevent escape.

When the black widow is ready to eat, it coats its prey with caustic digestive juices, then gobbles up the remains. If the widow senses danger, it will quickly climb down the loose netting wire and flee to safety.

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Predators and Threats

Plant-Like Animals - Orchid Mantis
Praying mantises are an example of a predator a black widow must beware of

©Galuh M/

Few animals prey on black widow spiders because of the insect's size and markings, and scientists believe the unpleasant signals the insects send repel most animals.

But there are exceptions to the rule, and in this case, the three animals are the praying mantid (Mantodea) , alligator lizard (Anguidae) and blue mud wasp (Chalybion californicum), which paralyze with their stingers before swallowing.

Humans also pose a threat to black widow spiders, as we accidentally crush them and kill them on purpose when we stumble upon this species in our homes.

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

Female black widow spider on branch
Black widow spiders typically live up to three years

© James Gathany / Public Domain – License

Widow spiders are solitary creatures that only come together during mating season in late spring. In an annual ritual, the male and female pair up, with the former injecting sperm into the latter. The ladies then fertilize the eggs internally and lay silky oocysts.

The sacs hatch for about 30 days, at which point a self-sufficient colony of mites hatch. Once the baby spider is born, it leaves the nest in a hurry. The wind often helps them on their way, and most find themselves far from home within hours of birth.

But the life of the black widow is not long. Many die before the full moon, and very few—mostly women—live past the age of three.


black widow spider on branch
Black widow populations don't appear to be under any immediate threat

© Paul Sapiano / CC BY 2.0 – License

Black widow spiders are not currently in danger. The International Union for Conservation of Nature doesn't even have the animal on its Red List. IUCN does list false widow spiders, but only under the Data Deficiency section.

U.S. Zoo Availability

Black widow spiders live in hundreds of exhibits and laboratories around the world. Here is a partial list of U.S. zoos that care for individuals of this genus:

  1. st louis zoo
  2. Auckland Zoo
  3. San Francisco Zoo and Gardens
  4. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  5. navajo zoo

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Black Widow Spider FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are Black Widow Spiders Herbivores, Carnivores, or Omnivores?

Widows eat other insects, which makes them predators.

Are Black Widow Spiders Dangerous to Humans?

In a sense, yes, they are. Female black widows carry large amounts of venom, which can sometimes cause illness and long-term pain. On average, about 2,200 poisonous black widow spiders bite people each year in the United States, but the vast majority of attacks do not result in hospitalization. In fact, the American Association of Poison Control Centers hasn't received a report of a black widow-related death since 1983.

Male widow spiders pose no threat because they are not venomous. Also, most female bites are "dry bites," meaning they don't contain venom.

Can a Black Widow Spider Kill You?

In theory, yes, black widow spiders can kill — and have killed — humans! But you're more likely to win the lottery than die from a black widow attack! Be careful, however, in the Mediterranean region, home to the deadliest black widow species, Latrodectus tredecimguttatus .

Where Are Black Widow Spiders Found?

Globally, species of spiders can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Locally, black widow spiders tend to spin their webs in undisturbed dark areas, including wood piles, basements, and the corners of rarely used cabinets and furniture.

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How do you kill a black widow spider?

There are several ways to get rid of black widow spiders.

To keep them from moving in, vacuum and dust regularly—even basements and attics. A neglected woodpile is like black widow's catnip, so clean it out once a week! Widow spiders smell through their feet and are repelled by the scents of lemon, eucalyptus, tea tree oil and peppermint. So if it's your job to repel spiders, use a cleaning product infused with these scents!

If the widow has already made a web, aerosols and insecticide powders sprayed directly or onto the spider or nest will kill it. Vinegar is an effective natural option. But nature does not represent humanity. The vinegar works because its acidity burns widows on contact — not a pleasant way to do it, whether you're a human or an insect.

For a less violent solution, make homemade black widow repellent by mixing equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray all rooms and cabinet corners with this substance to keep bugs out!

How Often Do Black Widow Spiders Bite?

Despite their fierce reputation, black widow spiders don't have a big bite. They prefer to avoid conflict and play dead when feasible. Their second-best defensive option is to flick Silk when threatened. But when they're trapped and have nowhere to go, they attack. Male strikes are harmless because they don't carry much venom. But being bitten by a bitch can cause several uncomfortable moments for humans, and can even kill dogs and cats.

What kingdom does the black widow spider belong to?

Black widow spiders belong to the animal kingdom.

What phylum do black widow spiders belong to?

Black widow spiders belong to the phylum Arthropoda.

Which category do black widow spiders belong to?

Black widow spiders belong to the class Arachnid.

What family do black widow spiders belong to?

Black widow spiders belong to the family Theridiidae.

What order do black widow spiders belong to?

Black widow spiders belong to the order Araneae.

What genus does the black widow spider belong to?

Black widow spiders belong to the genus Latrodectus.

What is the main prey of black widow spiders?

Black widow spiders prey on insects, psyllids, and beetles.

What are the natural enemies of black widow spiders?

Predators of black widow spiders include wasps, birds, and small mammals.

What Are the Distinguishing Features of Black Widow Spiders?

Black widow spiders have sharp fangs and a shiny black and red body.

How many children do black widow spiders have?

The average number of young a black widow spider has is 250.

What are some interesting facts about black widow spiders?

Black widow spiders typically prey on insects!

What is the scientific name of the black widow spider?

The scientific name of the black widow spider is Latrodectus.

How many species of black widow spiders are there?

There are 32 species of black widow spiders.

How Do Black Widow Spiders Have Babies?

Black widow spiders lay eggs.

Who will win the battle between Black Widow and Mantis?

An adult praying mantis will win a fight against an adult black widow.

What is the Difference Between Black Widow Spiders and Brown Widow Spiders?

There are a few differences between brown widow spiders and black widow spiders, including their coloration. On average, black widows are more poisonous than brown widows.

What's the Difference Between Black Widow Spiders and Redback Spiders?

The main difference between black widow spiders and redback spiders is their location and appearance. Redbacks have more red on them, and black widows grow larger on average than redbacks.

What's the Difference Between a Black Widow Spider and a Brown Recluse Spider?

The main differences between black widows and brown recluses are their coloration and habitat. Black widows are found all over the world, while brown recluses are only found in certain US states.

What's the Difference Between Male and Female Black Widow Spiders?

There are many differences between male and female black widows, including their markings and size. Male black widows are brown or gray, while females are always jet black.

Who will win a fight: Spider vs. Black Widow?

Because of the tarantula's size, defense mechanisms, venom, and strength, it would win a fight with a black widow.

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black widow spider

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